All About Captive Wildlife

By Tom Skinner | August 2, 2006
From Missouri Conservationist: Aug 2006

As far as you can go back in history, people have been fascinated with wild and exotic animals. Ancient civilizations, including the Romans, kept exotic animals as a sign of wealth and power. The captive wildlife and alternative livestock industries have seen unprecedented growth in the past few decades. Populations of farmed elk, deer, bison and other species have boomed across the country.

Wildlife for sale

In Missouri, organized captive wildlife sales formally began in Cape Girardeau around 1974 when Dave Hale held the Five–H Sales. In northern Missouri, the sale of exotic and captive wildlife was introduced in 1978 when Frank Lolli and his four sons began selling llamas, small caged animals, chickens, goats, muntjack deer and small furbearers at their livestock barn in Macon. Lolli Brothers has since become a leader in the industry.

In 1980, Lolli Brothers began selling white-tailed deer and elk. Over the years, their sales have expanded to include a variety of exotic animals. In an interview with Jim Lolli, he spoke of the many different species that have been auctioned over the years. Some were quite unique. Russian antelope, pygmy hippos, Congo buffaloes, parrots, all types of monkeys, and 30 to 40 different types of peacock have been offered for sale over the years.

White-tailed deer and elk have been a constant offering, but Lolli has seen a decline in these sales due to new restrictions and the threat of chronic wasting disease. He feels that the sales of deer and elk will pick back up, however, as deer breeders continue to monitor their herds for disease. Species such as camels and zebras have continued to hold their value at these sales.

Permit before purchase

Over the years, many people have gone to an auction at Lolli’s, viewed the captive wildlife offered for sale and then decided to purchase some type of animal. Often, people don’t consider that these cute little animals grow up to be big animals and can sometimes become a handful. Nor do they consider the high cost of care and confinement.

The Department of Conservation regulates the possession and confinement of species considered native to Missouri. Regulations help ensure animals are properly cared for and that owners understand the commitment needed to keep wildlife in confinement. For certain species holding facilities must be approved before animals may be purchased. For several of these animals, certain cage size standards must be met. One of the most important things to consider when purchasing an animal is being prepared to care for that animal.

In Missouri, the Department of Conservation has six basic types of permits to hold captive wildlife. It is important to note that any wildlife held under these permits may not come from the wild.

The seven types of permits for holding wildlife include the Class I breeder permit, the Class II breeder permit, hobby permit, licensed shooting area permit, field trial permit, dog training permit and the hound running area permit. To obtain a permit, you must first figure out what you are going to buy and what you intend to do with it. Once you have made a decision, there is an application process to complete. Working closely with your local conservation agent is a must (see page 1 for a list of regional office phone numbers to contact an agent near you). They will help you determine what permit you will need, what cages are necessary, and if testing is required to obtain a permit.

Wildlife under permit in Missouri is broken down into two categories, Class I and Class II. Class I wildlife includes bullfrogs, green frogs and birds (including ring-necked pheasants and gray partridges) that are native to the continental United States. Also included under the Class I permit are mammals (with the exception of bison, mountain lions, wolves and black bears or any hybrid of these species), nonvenomous reptiles, and amphibians native to Missouri. Elk that are held apart from other species are defined as livestock and are exempt from MDC permit requirements.

Class II animals also include the five poisonous snakes of Missouri: the pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, massasauga rattlesnake, copperhead and cottonmouth. Class II wildlife includes black bear, mountain lions, wolves, or any of their hybrids. When someone decides to purchase any of these Class II animals, they must first apply for the permit and take a written test.

A permit will only be granted after a passing score of 80 percent has been obtained and the required cages are inspected. This ensures that the applicant has studied the animal that is going to be purchased and has a good idea of what is needed to take care of that animal’s specific needs.

Cities, towns and counties can establish further restrictions on Class II animal ownership. In the case where prohibitions apply, no permits will be issued. If you are thinking of purchasing one of these animals, you must remember that keepers of Class II animals must register them with local law enforcement in the county where they are kept.

Safe and humane keeping

When applying for a permit, your application will be forwarded to the conservation agent in the county where you reside; he or she will inspect your cages and confirm your animals are being obtained from a legal source. The conservation agents will discuss and go over the confinement standards that are required for holding animals under the permit you possess.

Whether you have decided to raise deer, bobwhite quail or pheasants, the confinement standards will apply. Confinement standards provide protection, minimize the risk of escape and ensure humane living conditions for the animals being held. Another issue that will be discussed is the records and receipts that must be kept concerning the animals that you are holding. Each year, permit holders will be inspected by a conservation agent to check records and to see if confinement standards are being followed. It is very important that permit holders and conservation agents have and maintain a good working relationship.

Please remember that there are several different permits that are available to purchase captive wildlife in Missouri. Each permit tends to be for specific animals and purposes. You must have your permit in hand for the animal you wish to purchase at an exotic or alternative sale. This preparation means that you are better prepared to handle the animal when it gets home.

Exotic animals and wildlife should never be impulse purchases. One person contacted at an exotic sale purchased two African lion cubs. African lions are not governed by the Department of Conservation, but when questioned as to the reason for the purchase the gentlemen explained that the lions were cute and fuzzy and he could not wait to see them grow up. After some discussion concerning how big they were going to get and that they could get mean, he had a change of heart and decided against the purchase.

There are many other provisions in these permits that need to be discussed with your agent if you intend to sell or buy animals, whether native or exotic. Every person considering a purchase or possession of captive wildlife should always consult the Wildlife Code of Missouri for the regulations that are in place for confined wildlife. Always feel free to contact the Department if you have questions (see page 1 for a list of regional office phone numbers).

Permit Types

Class I Wildlife Breeder Permits allow the holder to exhibit, possess and propagate, buy and sell those animals defined as Class I wildlife. These include bullfrogs, green frogs and birds (including ring-necked pheasants and gray partridges) that are native to the continental United States. Also included under the Class I permit are mammals, with the exception of bison, mountain lions, wolves and black bears or any hybrid of these species, nonvenomous reptiles, and amphibians native to Missouri.

Class II Wildlife Breeder Permits allow the same privileges as a Class I permit but also include those animals defined as Class II wildlife. These include the five poisonous snakes of Missouri: the pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, massasauga rattlesnake, copperhead and cottonmouth. Also included are black bear, mountain lions, wolves, or any of their hybrids.

Hobby Permits authorize the holder to purchase, possess and propagate no more than 50 ring-necked pheasants and bobwhite quail together and not more than one game mammal. Animals may be held for personal use only. Persons holding wildlife under this permit may not sell any of the animals they hold. No hoofed animals or Class II animals can be held on this permit.

Licensed Hunting Preserve Permits allow the holder to maintain and operate a licensed hunting preserve. With this permit you can purchase, propagate, hold in captivity, and sell legally acquired pheasants, exotic partridges, quail and ungulates (hoofed animals). Depending on which types of animals are held, licensed hunting preserves must follow other guidelines that are set out in detail in Missouri’s Wildlife Code.

Field Trial Permits are used for sanctioned events, and allow you or designated shooters to shoot legally obtained quail, pheasants, chukars and mallard ducks. All of the birds must be marked with permanent avian leg bands prior to release, and captive mallards must be marked with a permanent avian leg band, removal of the hind toe from the right foot, or a web tattoo.

Dog Training Permits allow holders to tune up their bird dog before the season. Under this permit you can operate a dog-training area on no more than 40 acres and purchase legally acquired pheasants, exotic partridges and quail. Permit holders can have up to two training assistants, and all must have the appropriate hunting license.

The Captive Wildlife Boom

  • The North American Elk Breeders Association, founded in 1990 with 300 members, had grown to 1,400 members with 90,000 farmed elk by 1997.
  • The American bison industry is reported to be growing by 30 percent each year, with more than 250,000 farmed bison in 1997, compared to 30,000 bison in 1972.
  • The number of llamas in the U.S. was reported at more than 123,000 in 1999, up from 53,000 in 1992.
  • In just four years, from 1992 to 1996, the estimated number of farmed deer in the U.S. grew from 44,000 to 126,000. In Missouri, well over 200 permits are currently issued to citizens who are raising white-tailed deer.

This Issue's Staff

Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Writer/editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Designer - Susan Fine
Circulation - Laura Scheuler